|Recording information: Crossroads Productions, Vancouver, WA (05/2008-08/2010); Kung Fu Bakery, Portland, OR (05/2008-08/2010); Crossroads Productions, Vancouver, WA (06/2006); Kung Fu Bakery, Portland, OR (06/2006).
|Just when it feels like every possible version of every possible holiday song has been recorded already, Pink Martini's Joy to the World finds ways to revive holiday spirits. While the band could very easily do a swanky lounge-pop album of the season's songs, this globally minded collection is traditional and unpredictable at the same time. Pink Martini begins Joy to the World with an intimate rendition of "White Christmas" that's so faithful to the original that it features the sunny California prelude that was included when it debuted in the film Holiday Inn, then they follow it with a lush orchestral rendition -- sung in Japanese. Yet quirks like these don't feel kitschy; aside from "Santa Baby," Joy to the World's lone indulgence in camp, the album sings of peace and celebration in many tongues. Whether they give "Little Drummer Boy"'s arrangement a Middle Eastern-meets-lounge twist or sing "Silent Night" in German, Arabic, and English, Pink Martini ensures this is truly a multicultural party. The group even makes fresh choices for Hanukkah and New Year's, presenting the conclusion of the Amidah prayer set to music ("Elohai, N'tzor") and "Ocho Kandelikas," a Sephardic song sung in Ladino. "Congratulations," a song for the Chinese New Year, is such a breath of fresh air compared to "Auld Lang Syne" that it's easy to forget that this song would normally be heard in late January or early February instead of the end of December. And when "Auld Lang Syne" arrives with an arrangement inspired by Brazilian Carnaval music, it sends off the album, and the year, with a huge celebration. A near-perfect blend of spirituality and festivity, Joy to the World lets listeners hear the holidays with new ears, and maybe see it with fresh eyes, too. ~ Heather Phares